Senate should confirm Roberts to Supreme Court
July 26, 2005
WASHINGTON – President Bush’s nomination of Judge John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court deserves a fair hearing before the U.S. Senate, which has the constitutional responsibility to conduct such a task. The Senate should also provide a timely up-or-down vote on Roberts by Sept. 30. And finally, they should enthusiastically confirm him so that he may be seated as the land’s highest court begins its fall session in October.
I came to these three conclusions after spending two days in our nation’s capital meeting with the leaders of more than 50 of America’s leading conservative, pro-family organizations. Among them: Dick Bott, president and founder of Bott Radio Network in Overland Park, Kan., and his son, Rich Bott, Bott’s executive vice president. Roger Moran, research director, Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, and I were guests of the Botts at the meeting held at the Family Research Council’s national headquarters here. The attendees were some of America’s leading conservative Christian thinkers, political operatives, legal scholars, media and clergy.
Just hours before our meetings, several of those in attendance were at the White House being briefed. A handful was with President Bush July 12 when he announced his nomination of Roberts. They came back convinced that the president had selected a devoted family man and father of outstanding character who will faithfully interpret the Constitution rather than rewrite it from the bench. We heard reports from legal scholars, some of whom have argued multiple cases before the Supreme Court, who have studied all 40 of Roberts’ written opinions as a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They all agreed that Roberts, 50, is exceptionally qualified, possessing a keen intellect and the impartiality, temperament and sound legal judgment necessary for a Supreme Court justice. They also agreed that his nomination is the fulfillment of President Bush’s campaign promise to only nominate judges in the mold of conservative justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Whether Roberts gets a fair hearing or not will depend on Democrats sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee and that committee’s chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a moderate who opposed conservative nominee Judge Robert Bork in 1987, but is widely credited with saving the nomination of Thomas in 1991. Democrats have not been as outrageously critical of Roberts as they were with Bork and Thomas. It was Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who within an hour of President Ronald Reagan’s nomination announcement of Bork, bellowed that Bork was a man who would create an America where “women would be forced into back-alley abortions [and] blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.” Many think Kennedy’s statement helped ensure Bork’s defeat that ultimately led to Anthony Kennedy getting the seat. This time around, Democrats seemed boxed in because Roberts has little scholarly writings for them criticize and has only a few written opinions, having served for only two years on the D.C. Circuit. Democrats even – be it grudgingly – acknowledge that Roberts is well qualified (he has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court as an attorney, winning 25 of them)
Then there is the prickly Specter. A moderate-to-liberal known for his tough lines of questioning in the Bork and Thomas hearings, Specter raised the concerns of conservative, pro-family groups earlier this year when he suggested that he would oppose any conservative Supreme Court nominee who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. After many conservative groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called for Specter to be denied the cherished chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Specter appeared to back off his original statement, saying it was taken out of context. Most recently Specter seems committed to getting Roberts’ nomination to the Senate floor for a vote. “I have promised the president that I would give his nominees prompt hearings to get them out of committee,” he said.”
Roberts is a perfect candidate. He grew up in small-town Indiana, played football, was graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard University in just three years, and got dirty working in a steel mill during summer breaks. He served as a lawyer for Reagan and George H.W. Bush when they were in the White House and was deputy solicitor general. He made a fortune in his private law practice days at one of the most prestigious firms in Washington. He attends Mass every Sunday and his wife is a lawyer and a mother to two adopted children, ages five and four. Having served on the D.C. Circuit, his social circle is established and he is well-liked even by Democrats in this city where relationships can sometimes make or break careers. One wag described him as “a Washington insider without the arrogance.”
While Roberts is all these things and more, here’s what he’s not: He will not be among the judges who write their own new laws. His record indicates he will be the antithesis of liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, who, for example, arbitrarily expanded the Constitution’s authorization of government taking of private property for “public use” to allow the taking of private property for a “public purpose” – which can be anything. It is one thing to allow the government to take land to construct a dam or military base, but it is another to allow the government to demolish people’s homes or churches only to hand the land to a private developer to build casinos or shopping malls.
Roberts has displayed a noteworthy deference to the elected branches of government on matters of policy in his opinions. In what is being dubbed the “french fry” case, Roberts, known as a loving father, did not allow his personal feelings to get in the way of upholding a valid regulation prohibiting eating on Washington’s Metro, even though it resulted in the arrest of a 12-year-old girl for eating a single french fry. Then just two weeks ago, Roberts was among a D.C. Circuit panel that unanimously affirmed Bush’s decision to use special military courts to try Osama bin Laden’s driver and bodyguard. Roberts and the other judges refused to second-guess Bush’s decision that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the war against al-Qaida. Roberts agreed that such decisions belong exclusively to the president and Congress — not unelected courts.
Left-wing special interest groups, like pro-abortion, pro-homosexual “marriage” organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and People For the American Way, will launch unfair, vicious attacks against Roberts in coming weeks. Each one should be dismissed as mean-spirited and intellectually dishonest. A key line of attack is likely to be questions from liberal, pro-abortion Senate Judiciary Committee members who will ask Roberts if he will work to overturn Roe v. Wade. If that happens Roberts should employ what has come to be known as “the Ginsburg Standard.” Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg refused to answer the same type of questions during her confirmation hearings, saying that her personal views on moral issues were “not relevant.” Saying that it would be inappropriate for her to comment on any legal issue or scenario that “might come before” her if she were confirmed (she was overwhelmingly confirmed despite having served as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and against the wishes of conservatives). She refused to reveal her legal thinking on 30 different issues, ranging from the death penalty to homosexuality.
Christians can rest assured that the liberal interest groups will be aggressively countered by conservative organizations like those I had the opportunity to meet with recently (our meetings were periodically stopped for prayer in which our Lord Jesus Christ was honored). I am convinced Roberts must be confirmed and so far 44 senators have already indicated they agree (50 is needed for confirmation). I urge all Missouri Southern Baptists to join me and our state’s two U.S. Senators – Kit Bond and Jim Talent – in supporting the president’s nomination. Please pray and be good citizens and let the key Senate leaders involved in the confirmation process know how you feel at this historic moment in our nation’s existence.